When worlds merge: Finding common ground
Choosing the appropriate response in a different culture
by Jolene Hodder, Lt. Colonel –
There are days when I know I’m living simultaneously in several different worlds. I often wish that I could bring them together, find a common ground, and feel at home in all of them. But I can’t seem to make that happen.
After lunch last Sunday, I left my comfortable little cottage to deliver a plate of home-baked cookies to my neighbor. On my way back, I saw one of the children from our Sunday school going through our garbage bin. I stood and watched as he systematically emptied each bag and carefully replaced whatever he didn’t want back into the bin. I didn’t call out, for I didn’t want to embarrass him; and I didn’t run inside our house to get food, for I have learned from earlier mistakes that to do what comes naturally would entice a large group of children to my door. I need both the sensitivity to understand the needs of such children living in their world and the wisdom to know how best to act when our worlds meet.
A few weeks ago, I told my associates that we all were required to attend a mysterious “meeting,” which would be held “somewhere.” To their surprise, I took them to an ice-cream parlor at a shopping mall. It was fun watching as they nervously told the woman behind the counter what flavors of ice cream they wanted. As we sat down, I reflected that two worlds had merged. After we had laughed and enjoyed the ice cream and each other, I asked my friends if they would like to walk through the stores. No, they all wanted to go back to THQ. I was disappointed, of course: I had wanted to show them something of another world, but it was obvious that they didn’t feel comfortable there. So we left. I now wonder: Was I wrong to try to share a little of another world with them? And should I just be content to live in what for them is the real world, that of their lives in Nairobi, Kenya?
Each time Ken and I are guests at a meal, we are served boiled or fried chicken. We at first assumed that chicken is part of the meal that our hosts eat almost every day. Now I admit to getting a little tired of eating boiled or fried chicken over and over again, but I was recently taught a lesson while visiting the kitchen of the Kabete Children’s Home. I asked a staff member, “How often do the children get chicken?” The answer: “Once a year, at Christmas.” Just this past week, while dining on (you guessed it) chicken at the training college, Ken asked how often the cadets are served chicken. The training principal smiled proudly: “Once a month,” he said. So chicken is served once a year to the orphans and once a month to the cadets? I felt a little ashamed that I had not fully appreciated before that the constant appearance of chicken on our hosts’ tables was because they are gracious and generous and want to give their best food—not their usual meals—to us. The serving of chicken in one world is routine; in the other, it’s an expensive gesture of hospitality.
When our corps officer recently announced from the pulpit the plan to serve chicken to visiting cadets, he pleaded for someone to donate the birds. Ken was the first to stand and volunteer. He confessed to me later that, as he sat down, he suddenly realized that he didn’t know the first thing about choosing likely candidates for the meal table from a flock of live chickens. And if he did buy them, he wondered, did he really want them in his car? Wisely, he quickly dismissed the idea of transferring the obligation to his wife, who was not in the meeting that morning. So what did he do? As he left the building, he gave enough money to the corps officer to purchase the required number of birds and walked home—quickly!
The world that is Kenya loves to celebrate its birthday of independence. Our family joins in the national celebration enthusiastically. I felt justified, then, in observing the Fourth of July at THQ. I wore a flag in my lapel and distributed little American flags around the building. Our associates got into the spirit of the day, greeting us each time we met with a smile and a shout of “In God we trust!” Different worlds again.
So what about all these different worlds? Is there any hope that I can bring them together?
Perhaps I already have. The song “Homesick,” sung by the group Mercy Me, helps me to reconcile these worlds. If, as the group sings (and all of us often say), “Home is where the heart is,” my one heart is living in the worlds I know and the worlds of the people I serve. Clearly, that is the way the Lord wants me to live for the present. But in my best moments I realize that one glad day my heart will arrive at its real home, one where all our worlds will merge into the eternity of heaven.